I've thought long and hard about budgets and living paycheck to paycheck and tips for cutting costs. I can give you those tips and share what has worked for my family but I think I need to start somewhere else. There's something that needs to be discussed first or none of the rest will matter.
What is the lifestyle that you want to live and how important to you is it?
Do you want to be a full-time stay at home mom?
Do you want family vacations to Disney?
Do you want a smart phone so you can Instagram pics, tweet, Facebook, and surf wherever, whenever?
Do you want to be able to send your three-year-old to preschool?
Do you want to have dinner out once a week? Twice a week?
Do you want to shop at Goodwill, Target, Kohl's, Macy's? And how often do you want to shop there?
Do you want to do private or public shcool or do you want to homeschool?
Do you want to buy Stouffer's lasagna or do you want to make your own?
And when you make it do you want to use a jar of store-bought marinara, do you want to make your own red sauce from a $.69 can of store-brand tomato paste or do you want to puree and cook down tomatoes from your garden?
And even if you don't want to do the garden thing are you willing to do so to save money?
Do you want to buy a new mini-van or a second-hand one?
Are you willing to limit the amount of driving you do so you're not spending a fortune filling up?
If you want to be a stay at home mom are you willing to pick up extra jobs here and there, like cleaning a house on Saturdays or coaching the local cheerleading squad?
Can you give up Starbucks or even playdates at McDonald's and settle for walks around the neighborhood?
Do you need two incomes to do these things or is one enough?
If you want family vacations in Disney World that's fine! If you want to be able to shop at Target once a month and drop $200 that's fine! Really - in case the tone of this post isn't clear, please know that I have nothing against having it all! In fact, I think that's fantastic.
But to have it all, and to be financially responsible, you might not be able to afford being a full-time stay at home mom. So if you want to pay for a nice phone and have a data plan then do it and know that the sacrifice is that you may have to work. And I don't mean full time work. Maybe 20 hours a week will get you what you want. Maybe even five hours is all you need.
The fact of the matter is that some of us have hard-working husbands with nice paying jobs. Those women can do whatever they want (vacations, new cars, nice clothes, babysitters, etc) and the family can be financially responsible and afford for the mom to stay home. Some of us have hard-working husbands with jobs that don't pay as well. Mine, for example. Travis and I are trying to be financially responsible so we can afford for me to stay home but that means we cannot do whatever we want.
But we figured out a long time ago that the benefits and blessings of me staying home with our kids are (more than!) worth the sacrifices we make in our budget. And we also figured out that comparing what we have with what other families have doesn't help. We know what we want, what we need, and what is a priority for us. Knowing those things has enabled us to make a budget that works for us, allowing us to sacrifice where we can and need to but also allowing us some wiggle room where we want.
So Lifestyle - what do you want?